Lack of Confidence. Fear of People, No Touching or Eye Contact.

It’s not surprising that two-year-old Moose suffers from lack of confidence around people. Considering his background as a puppy born on the streets of Romania, he’s doing great. They didn’t have him until he was sixteen weeks old.

No socialisation will have taken place during the crucial early weeks and what encounters he did have with people were very likely scary ones and now hard-wired into his brain. Continue reading…

Vocal. Very Excitable. Easily Aroused. Permanently Stressed

I rang the doorbell bell. Betty barked – as most dogs do. I sat down, she barked at me. She continued to be vocal on and off for most of the time I was there.

At first I thought she wanted to chase me away, but it soon became apparent that she was excited by my presence in a friendly sort of away.  They seldom have callers and to Betty I was therefore a major event.  If I touched her she went quiet but then would bark at me for more when I stopped.

Betty is an extremely vocal little dog.

Very vocal little dogI couldn’t however get on with my job and pet her all the time. By doing so I was merely reinforcing here for being loudly vocal. If we had put her in another room she would have continued to bark and I didn’t want her even more stressed. Continue reading…

Feels Unsafe on Walks. Has he been Punished?

I found Dexter friendly, but careful. He tries to please – almost like he’s scared not to.

He is a three-year-old mix of mostly Labrador and Lurcher or Greyhound. They have had him for just three months.

When out of the house fear takes over and then he’s unable to take notice of them.

Unsafe on lead

Feels unsafe on leadWalking by the roads Dexter simply feels too unsafe so he’s on high alert, panting and pulling. Twice a day he pulls desperately to the nearby field where they can let him off lead. Once free, he’s a different dog. He charges about, happy, and will once more listen to them.

Dexter feels so unsafe only when he’s on lead. If he sees another dog, even at some distance, he starts to bark. The frantic barking then changes into a high-pitched cry. He then will jump up on them, almost hugging them, scared and appeasing at the same time, like expecting something very bad to happen. Continue reading…

Defensive. Unfortunate Incidents. Reactive to Certain Dogs

Poor little Teddy is now on the defensive. He is very small, weighing only about 5kg. The three-year-old is a cross between a Shih Tsu and, surprisingly, a Border Collie – they saw his mother.

The friendly and confident little dog has had two setbacks recently.

Other dogs had never before bothered him.

Two unfortunate incidents

A while ago, the large, friendly and boisterous dog next door had jumped over the fence into Teddy’s garden. He jumped on him, terrifying Teddy. Now Teddy races up and down the fence, boundary barking.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, about to jump into the car, he had an altercation with two larger passing dogs. They jumped on him. They pinned him down and he was bitten on the neck. Teddy screamed and screamed. The young lady says it was one of the most awful experiences of her life.

Since then Teddy has been on the defensive.

They are really worried this may have scarred him for life. Their well-behaved little dog is now tense and reactive. To quote the lady, ‘I’m so upset about it I just done know what to do’.

on the defensive with other dogsWhere before he would walk past a house down the road with barking dogs at the gate, he now barks before he even gets there. He is on the defensive irrespective of whether the dogs are out or not.

Teddy’s defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs is totally understandable as it is all about basic survival and feeling safe. Bad experiences have fallout – a sort of PTSD.  Although the ‘disaster’ itself can be very brief, the effect can take considerable time to recover from. Sometimes it will be permanent unless the dog, like a human, gets specialist help.

Teddy lives in a family of three generations and they all totally adore him! Although they spoil him rotten – he doesn’t actually behave spoilt. They have taken time and trouble training him. He’s beautiful.

Sadly, he has become increasingly territorial and nervous since these incidents.

There is more involved than just dealing with defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs itself. I have broken the work down into about four areas.

A calmer dog

Firstly, if they can keep Teddy as calm as possible it will give him a greater tolerance and he will be less jumpy. This means moderating some of the things they currently do with him that make him wildly excited.

Food

Secondly, key to the whole thing is being able to use food. Food is available all the time to Teddy. His humans share their food with him. He gets chews that are, relative to his size, huge. Food simply has no value as rewards.

This will be a big challenge for one family member in particular!

They will now save the very best food for working with. For instance, if they already add cooked chicken to his meals, what good will cooked chicken be for making him feel better about something he’s scared of? If he’s already full of food and snacks, if he can also help himself to dry food whenever he wants, why would he take any notice of the food they need to use?

Protective

Thirdly, he needs help with his territorial and guarding behaviour which, because the incidents happened so near home, has intensified. They will show him that it’s not his job to protect the garden. This means he shouldn’t for now have free access unless someone is around to help him out.

His humans, the young lady in particular who witnessed the second incident, are themselves nervous. She is not acting like the ‘protector’ that Teddy needs. He will sense everything that she is feeling. She needs to work on acting strong and cool.

Finally, what can they actually do?

What do they do about the big dog next door that jumped over the fence into his garden and terrified him? About the house with the barking dogs that send him into a frenzy of defensive barking when they walk past? What do they do about those dogs and situations they may meet when out?

The work is done using desensitisation and counter-conditioning. This involves keeping within Teddy’s comfort zone – and I would say the young lady’s also. When they near another dog or the garden with barkers, they need to watch him carefully. At the first sign of unease they will increase distance from what is troubling him, before he becomes defensive and starts to bark. It could involve turning around and changing their plans.

This is when food having value becomes vital. Pairing something he should love (food) with something he is uneasy or defensive towards (certain other dogs too close) is the way to go.

Together with the neighbour, they can work on their dogs each side of the now raised fence, using leads, distance and food (or play).

I hope it’s not too long before little Teddy becomes less defensive and can all feel safe on walks and in his own garden again.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help.

 

“I’m a Terrified Dog. GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

In the reality TV game show ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ a young woman is locked in a tank of snakes. She is terrified of snakes. A man who’s not a good swimmer is shut in a dark tunnel leading to a deep tank with scary water critters. Others are buried in a dark tomb with rats and insects dropping all around them.

These people do this through choice.

Terrified of the outside worldThey know exactly when the terror will start and when it will end. They have a get-out card. If the terrified contestants shout “I’M A CELEBRITY – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” they will be rescued immediately. There is a team of medics on hand, just in case.

They know that however much they hate the ordeal, they are safe.

Imagine how it must be for Marco.

After some weeks in kennels he has a wonderful new home. But, as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the house and garden he is terrified.

The gate opens and a world of horror is beyond.

Vehicles – small, large, fast, slow, noisy, smelly – are passing. There are bikes and runners. He lunges and barks, attack probably being the best form of defense.

In the open he is on high alert all the time. He barks at wind in the trees, at birds flying overhead and at distant lights.

Being in the boot of their car sends him into a meltdown. A covered crate makes no difference.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco has no way of knowing that he is, in reality, safe.

It’s an educated guess that for the first three and a half years of his life the Staffie mix will have had little exposure, if any, to the world outside a house and garden. Any journey in a car would probably have taken him through this outside hell and ended somewhere like the vet. No wonder he’s terrified.

All good dog owners give their dogs long walks, right?

Like the conscientious dog owners they are, wanting to do the very best for their gorgeous but troubled dog, they had been taking him out for walks from the start.

Choice.

Unfortunately, unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco doesn’t have choice. He can’t know that in reality he is safe. He can’t know that the ordeal will only last a set length of time and then it will end. The dog has no ‘I’M A TERRIFIED DOG – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” option.

See this: What fear does to the body – dog or human.

Marco is gorgeous. Indoors he is friendly without being pushy, he’s gentle and affectionate. It’s probable that after just six weeks with them he’s not yet shown all his true self. His body language is what I would call ‘careful’. He shows signs of anxiety at unusual times like when he’s called through a door he lowers his head.

With a dog so obviously fearful of the outside world (the rescue apparently didn’t see this side of him) it’s common to suggest to new owners that the dog isn’t taken out at all for three weeks.

No walks!

People find this hard.

Let a dog get used to his new environment – house, garden and new people first. Just imagine the enormity of being trapped in a totally new world over which you have no control.

It’s all to do with trust in his humans, with Marco feeling safe. No animal, or human, willingly goes somewhere he believes is life-threatening. Keeping fit and exercise is an irrelevance compared to feeling safe.

If our guesses as to his previous home are correct, he’s not had much exercise in terms of long walks in all his life so far, so neither he nor his body will miss it.

They will now work slowly, always keeping in mind Marco’s comfort threshold. He’s fine in the house. He’s fine in the garden. When the gate opens he panics.

He is terrified.

He transforms into a lunging, pulling and barking beast.

They will now walk him around house and garden only, teaching him to walk on a loose lead. The teenage son was soon walking him about at his side with no lead at all.

They need to get him okay with the traffic on the busy road outside. He has to negotiate the footpath before going anywhere else.

With Marco on a long, loose lead they will open the gate and find his threshold distance – where he is aware of the passing traffic but can cope; it could be right down the garden. As the vehicles pass and Marco is watching them, they will rain chicken on him. If he won’t eat, he is still over threshold. He will have the freedom and choice to retreat further.

With lots of short sessions, with vehicles at a safe distances heralding food, over time his threshold will get closer to the road.

The car is another thing to work on but not until he’s okay walking towards it and around it. Little by little.

It is likely that with slow and patient work Marco will suddenly surge ahead and some of the other things that terrify him in the large and unfamiliar world won’t seem so scary.

He will have absolute trust in his humans if they allow him to choose what he is ready for.

He now can shout “Get Me Out of Here!”

He can choose!

If with his body language he shows uneasiness they will make things alright. If with barking he shouts “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”, they will do just that. Beat a retreat.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Marco and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Puppies’ Fear of Other Dogs

Shih Tzu puppy

PJ

I have had a lovely visit with five-month-old Shih Tzu female litter-mates Hattie and PJ and their delightful family, starting my ‘puppy parenting’ with them. This initial visit is to make sure the basics are in place, plan the way forward and pre-empt potential future problems.

Potential problems with littermates are well documented but not inevitable.

These two are inseparable – they move around like one adorable fluffy mop; it’s hard to see where one dog ends and the other starts, or to see which end is head and which end is tail!

Amongst the usual puppy things, two matters stood out as particularly needing addressing. One is their lack of sufficiently early socialisation resulting in fear of other dogs. They left the breeder at nine weeks but their vaccinations hadn’t yet begun, and though they had met plenty of human friends they were not taken out to meet other dogs until about 14 weeks old. So sadly, at just five months, Hattie and PJ are already wary of other dogs they see and they bark at them.

Many humans (this family less so) tend to believe that socialising means exposing their dog to other dogs in such a way that they are forced to encounter as many as possible, on a tight lead, and this will eventually ‘get them over’ their barking. It’s actually the very opposite. I say to people it’s not walks we’re working on, or other dogs, it’s actually ‘fear therapy’. It’s easier to understand that with a ‘therapy’ there will be a psychological approach and one needs to go slowly.

Other dogs have to be transformed into something the puppies feel happy to see. Force won’t do that.

I call it the ‘Other Dog Battery’ (it could be a battery for any other thing a dog is scared of). Each time the puppy can be aware of another dog at a distance that doesn’t disturb her and particularly if she is then given tasty little bits to eat or forage for or something else good always happens, this starts to charge up the ‘Other Dog Battery’.

This particular battery is slow and laborious to charge.

Each and every time, however, the puppy or dog encounters a dog that is too close or is suddenly surprised by a dog around a corner, that battery discharges very fast and goes flat – and they will then have to start again. Logistically it can be difficult but there is no way around it and the puppies ideally need to be walked separately.

Shih Tzu Lying on her back

Hattie

The second common thing that arose from this consultation is to do with dogs that ‘won’t eat’. This then also means the dog also won’t be interested in food to help fill up that ‘Other Dog Battery’.

Sometimes the reason is a lot more obvious than you’d think.

They showed me the treats they give the puppies – amongst other things mini markies about the size of small cocktail sausage rolls. They admit to giving each puppy about six a day but with a family of four nobody is counting. The puppy can’t be much more than 3kg in weight and the man told me he weighed about 70kg. Relative to size, that makes one markie far larger than a doughnut… and six markies? It’s no wonder the puppies have little interest in food.

This case is yet another example of how issues are inter-related. No one thing stands alone. The food issue raises the matter of nutrition and food affects the ability to reward and counter-condition, which is necessary to change the way the puppies behave towards other dogs, which in turn necessitates the two being walked separately which is in itself part of a wider issue – that of the puppies being given quality time individually; the stress of walks can spill over into grumpiness afterwards and so on.

With work and patience, their fear of other dogs should lessen. These sweet and gentle puppies must feel safe and protected. It’s an owners’ job to save their dogs from unwanted or rough attention at all costs – whether from a human or another dog. Easier said than done sometimes.

Jumpy and Easily Startled

Yorkie

Bud

I was welcomed at the door by two very friendly and seemingly confident little dogs – Bud, a Yorkie age two and his five-month-old son, Bentley, a Yorkie mix already double the size of Bud.

Bud, however, was strangely jumpy and startled by anything that might make an unexpected sound, even soft sounds coming from another room. He would instantly recoil and might run away from even what seemed like a soft tap, but he was back again in no time like nothing had happened.

Bud will also run the other way if he simply senses a sound was coming. If the man carries something through the room, Bud will run away in anticipation of the sound that object may make if put down noisily. If someone goes to push their chair back to stand up, Bud runs, anticipating the sound of the chair scraping against the floor.

Puppy Bentley seems now to be copying him. He also startles, but not so much – yet. Very possibly there could be a genetic element.

Bud’s bounce-back recovery was amazing really.  It all seemed a bit odd.

A dog quite this reactive to noises is likely to have other issues like excessive barking and fearfulness of new people coming into his house. Bud is friendly and confident with both new people and with other dogs. It seemed almost like an automatic reaction rather than deep-seated fear.

Bud apparently only became so jumpy at about nine months old and it coincided with a break-in when he was alone in the house. Despite men breaking into his house, he’s not scared of people as you might expect.

Other noisy things that frighten him include the usual – vacuum cleaner, things with motors like hairdryer and the ironing board.

People so often think that if they force the dog to remain in the presence of these sounds that he will gradually get over it. Called flooding, it very occasionally can work, but the risks are great. Nearly always the fear becomes deeper rooted, transfers onto other things, even to the point of the dog shutting down altogether. Unexpected bangs and noises are so much part of daily life they can’t all be avoided but they can avoid the obvious. Because stress and fear builds up in the system, the calmer the dogs can be in general the less jumpy they are likely to be.

Bud and Bentley

Bud and Bentley

So, the plan now is for them to do their very best to keep Bud (and Bentley) away from the things they know scare them whilst working on controlled sounds that they generate themselves.

I suggested they deal with one specific sound at a time and I believe that as time goes by the progress will spill over onto other sounds.

I noticed Bud flinched and ran away when I unthinkingly moved the footstool beside me. So, with my tastiest tiny treats and with the very friendly Bud beside me, I moved the stool a fraction, dropping food as I did so. He jumped slightly but I hadn’t pushed him over his threshold and he ate the food and stayed with me. I did this quite a few times, lifting the stool and putting it down again, a little more loudly as he stopped reacting.

Then the man said ‘Try this’, and dropped some keys beside me onto the stool. Bud ran. When he came back he was seriously spooked by the keys. I just reached out towards them and fed him. I silently touched them and fed him but he was already backing off. When they made a small sound he ran.

If the keys had been put down really gently initially we would have got further and it was a good example for the family to see of just how slowly and carefully they need to take desensitisation. It also demonstrated how once the dog is ‘over-threshold’ he’s not in a mental state to learn anything, so the session needs to end.

With each thing, the aim is for Bud to actually welcome that particular sound because it means yummy food. With sufficient careful work he will learn to love keys being put down, if not suddenly dropped!

Talking of food, the dogs’ diet has little nutritional value along with colourings and additives which could well encourage nervous behaviour. Unless people know better they fall for colourful packs and often rubbish food tastes good – we know that don’t we!  Many people don’t realise just to what extent food can affect their dog’s behaviour and nervous system. That is something easily changed.

As the jumpiness is so out-of-place with the rest of his character, I just wonder whether Bud may have inherited a tendency to startle. He was originally bought from a pet shop at about twelve weeks old so very likely was bred in a puppy farm. Who knows what his life was like during those first very formative weeks of his life?

He will probably always have the jumpiness in him if something is unexpected or sufficiently loud but they can help him greatly through deliberately avoiding exposing him to things that get him startled, jumpy or scared whilst working on controlled sounds.

Hopefully we have caught it soon enough to avoid Bentley going down the same route.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bud. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Nips People Who Visit

AchillesIndieBeautiful Indie is another Shepherd-type dog that is reactive to people – particularly people coming to his house. He was abandoned as a puppy of three months old on the streets of Romania and spent the next three months in kennels – crucial months in his development.

The reason he nips people is probably a mix of being territorial, fear of new people – of men in particular, and some instinctive herding of people in order to control them when walking around his house which he had done from the beginning and well before he began to show any aggression.

The young lady has worked so hard with her beautiful dog and is very distressed that he changed so drastically. Before that she could take him to work and he would accompany her everywhere. Now she can’t trust him.

His behaviour changed when he became adolescent. At the same time, just as he had settled into his new home over here, the lady went away for a month and had to leave him behind. There would have been a big break in his new routines and very likely he felt insecure.

Sudden movement seems to trigger immediate barking followed by a nip – on the person’s leg. The only incident outside his house was when, on a walk, some people suddenly appeared out of the woods and the man was brandishing a stick. This really upset Indie, particularly because the man then fended him off with the stick.

He was on edge for several days after that, growling and barking at everyone he saw.

Like lots of dogs who are reactive to people in their own territory and who startle and lunge when someone may suddenly appear, Indie is fine in busy places with lots of people and dogs. Strange isn’t it. Like us, if we are alone in a field and a person suddenly appears we can feel quite exposed. If the field is full of people we feel a lot safer.

Indie used to accompany the young lady to work but because of his unpredictability she has been leaving him at home where, though he has company, the methods used with him are totally different – more along the ‘old-school’ methods rather than positive and reward-based.

So she will start to take him to work with her again and she will manage the situation better. It is fortunate that she works for herself. The times when he’s most upset with stuff going on he can be put in the car where he is happy and relaxed. If she needs to wander about and go anywhere with hands free, she can tie his lead to her waist which will keep him and other people safe.

Every time Indie hears or sees a person, however distant, the ‘food bar’ will open. When nobody is about it will close.

More visitors to the house are needed also – but only when the young lady is at home to make sure things are done in the right way.

Whatever the main root cause – probably a mix of herding, guarding and fear – it boils down to Indie not feeling safe when the person moves about or makes a sudden movement. It’s not every time – which makes him all the more unpredictable. I saw it for myself when, although earlier I had been walking around with no problems, I stood up when he was asleep. He reacted immediately – the lady was ready for it.

It is possible to teach him alternative behaviours incompatible with barking and nipping as the young lady has been doing, like Sit or Down or Bed along with watching her – but this means she has to constantly be on tenterhooks each time the guest is likely to move in order to give Indie the correct cues. One day she may forget or be out of the room.

It’s far better to treat it right at source, I feel, and deal with the emotion which is driving Indie to behave like this, to have him associate people with good stuff, to desensitise him so far as possible to sudden movements and help him to feel more confident around people.

The work can begin with people in situations or at a distance where Indie feels reasonably comfortable. At work, the people don’t actually enter the work area but there is frequent traffic walking past his barrier of people who will ignore him if requested to do so. He can also be taken to busy places with lots of people and dogs because he feels reasonably safe there also.

When out he can wear a yellow high-viz jacket bearing the words ‘Ignore me, I’m in training‘. He is fine so long as nobody walks directly up to him. He is such a beautiful looking dog it’s easy to understand why people should want to touch him.

Bit by bit the bar can be raised.

I wrote a short blog in my Paws for Thought series about ‘sudden’ and dogs.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Indie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

On Lookout Duty

Border Terrier sitting at the windowRalph barks at people and dogs going past his house, spending most of the day sitting on the back of the sofa by the window on lookout duty.

They have deliberately left a gap in their hedge at the back of the garden which overlooks the park, so he can watch dogs and people from there also.

He likes it. Yes….but……

The Border Terrier is now five years old and whilst he’s great with people once they are in the house, particularly the children’s friends, he has been doing this window-watching for much of his life. He goes mental when the postman comes up the path and will wreck the post if he gets to it. Rehearsing this behaviour constantly at home, it is little wonder that he continues to react like this to people and dogs in other places. A while ago he bit a postman.

Meeting the dear and much-loved little dog in his house, it’s hard to believe.

What’s more, the lookout duty, the guarding and the barking will mean his stress levels are probably permanently raised, and as more things happen during a typical day they can get to tipping point.

He gets so aroused when they meet some dogs out on walks that he has bitten the lady several times as she held him back – her leg just happened to be in the way and he redirected onto the nearest thing.

There is nothing at all to be gained by getting that near to another dog when your own dog is reacting quite so desperately. More distance must be put between them if at all possible at the very first sign of any reaction.

Border Terrier looking out of the windowFortunately in some ways, Ralph is obsessed with his tennis ball. If, instead of constantly throwing it for him both at home and on walks, they were to reserve it for when he sees another dog, it could not only give him something to redirect onto but in time dogs will be associated with something good. The downside to current constant ball play is that it adds to a dog’s already high arousal levels. Withhold it and the ball will gain even more value as a training tool.

Like so many dogs who are reactive to other dogs when out, he will be feeling tension from a lead hooked to a collar. As soon as they spot a dog, they tighten the lead resulting in inevitable neck discomfort. It would be so much better if, instead of a shortened lead on a collar and holding their ground, the lead were loose and attached to a harness with which they can make a comfortable diversion around the other dog.

The territorial problem is highlighted at their caravan by the coast. He doesn’t like dogs or people coming too near. The final straw was recently when a man cut between the caravans a bit too close for Ralph and Ralph bit him.

Both at the caravan and at home, management should be in place such as blocking Ralph’s view from the window (he will need other, more healthy kinds of stimulation to fill the vacuum) and blocking the shortcut between the caravans. Serious work can then be done on changing Ralph’s feelings about other dogs and about people approaching his property.

They can start by working at those dogs already at a safe distance in the park out the back, through that hole in their hedge, desensitising and counter-conditioning him using food and ball play.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).